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Kady's blog

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  • Writer's pictureKady Potter

It's time to admit that I made a mistake.

A couple of years back, I made the move from global content marketing to Japanese-to-English translation and editing.

Seeing as I've returned to a marketing job this month, the time has come to 'fess up:

For me, changing industries was a mistake.

Things get lost in translation all the time - this time, it was me

I saw the move into the translation industry as a huge opportunity. A chance to work with words in a new, different (but still interesting) way, and to improve my Japanese language skills at the same time.

Ultimately, it was in fact the great learning opportunity I thought it'd be. I learned something new every single day. I had the chance to work with some amazing people. I feel like my Japanese ability has massively improved in the process (especially my ability to read kanji).

It took me a long time to admit this to myself, but the most important thing that I learned during my time on a translation team is:

The translation industry isn't really where I want to be after all.

I've had to face up to the fact that I was taking a very brisk walk down the wrong career path. I had to stop and retrace my steps, and that took a little while. Hopefully, I'm finally getting back on the right track.

A lack of confidence so obvious, even a Magic 8 Ball would cringe

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years' time?"

It's a common enough interview question, but one of my (now former) coworkers casually asked me that during a lunch break a while back.

If you've done enough interview prep, no problem. Turns out it's a much harder question to answer on the spot. I'm pretty sure that I hesitated - maybe only for a moment, but in my head it felt like a long, awkward silence.

I gave a short, non-committal answer about maybe returning to freelance copywriting once I have permanent residency in Japan, but the game was up.

Not only did I not know where I wanted to be in 5 years, but the answer definitely wasn't "right here, on this team, doing exactly what I do now".

I couldn't say it with a straight face. The words wouldn't come out. Deep down I'd felt like that for some time already, but that moment was the beginning of the end.

Drowning in career regret? That's the sunk cost fallacy at work

I've struggled with the idea that leaving a job and an industry means that I've failed.

My coworkers have stuck it out for far longer, so why couldn't I?

Do I look like a job hopper? Do I want to look like a job hopper?

All I knew for sure was that I couldn't afford to be pigeon-holed in a career that I didn't really want. After less than 18 months in the role, recruiters were already quickly assuming that I was only interested in other translation gigs. Marketing? But you haven't done that for ages. The clock was already ticking.

The fact is, some translations are word-for-word, on purpose

I'm a creative writer by nature, and I aim for an easy reading style. One thing I've always done as a copywriter is reword and simplify things for clients who work in niche, complex and/or technical fields. Law, shiny new technologies, emerging trends, ground-breaking research, that sort of thing.

Japanese isn't the easiest language to translate in the first place. Factor in working in a field where the priority is factual accuracy - throughout files that are thousands of words long. Factor in the need to use business English and formal terms at all times. Factor in clients who expect to see their wording reflected exactly as they chose to write it in the original language, or else.

You find yourself spending time debating and attempting to justify every. Single. Word choice. And it's exhausting at times.

"Sure, we could just say 'use' here, but the client prefers 'utilize' so we need to make sure that's the wording in every case."

The stickler for consistency that I am enjoyed spotting discrepancies and fixing typos. The creative writer that I am found the lack of variety hard to deal with.

In copywriting and marketing, sure you have established slogans and names, etc. You have brand style and tone of voice guidelines to keep you on track. What you also have is the freedom and the flexibility to work with them and reach a creative solution. You take those guidelines and you run with them, waving them around in the air like the pedantic weirdo you are.

Maybe I'd have had an easier time in a different, more 'creative' area of translation: gaming, TV show subtitles, tourism, something along those lines. Or maybe not.

Back in the marketing world, I still need to pay attention to factual accuracy. I still need to make sure certain things are consistent. What I can do, however, is come up with new and engaging ways to say those things. I can take those facts and frame them however I like (within the scope of the TOV document).

As a human, this likely isn't my last mistake - but I'm 1 down

It's been less than a month, at this point. I still can't predict the future. I still don't know where I'm going to end up, no matter which direction I walk in.

If nothing else, I feel like I've got my feet firmly planted back on familiar ground. Time to go run around my desk while holding some Powerpoint slides above my head!


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